I could have titled this post “The Sock Saga”, as Albert is a little preoccupied with sock supplies, but I thought it not the most compelling title, plus it’s hard to find a photograph of 1940s socks. Yes, I’m sure somewhere on the internet there is a vintage sock snap; I’ll save that search for another day. I hope that Albert will learn to darn his own socks in the next year. He is getting used to washing his own hankies, as you will discover.
Albert is also laid low with tonsillitis. His doctor prescribes potassium chlorate and menthol to relieve his symptoms. I was a little alarmed when I discovered that potassium chlorate is a volatile substance, which is used in fireworks and other explosives, yet it was a widely used throat remedy way back then.
January 14 Weds
Dear All, your letter has not yet arrived, but I think I had better at least start to reply, though I shall wait until the first post tomorrow until I finally seal it up. I hope the socks arrive soon as I am down to the last pair, and even they have a hole in and want washing. I suppose that they arrived too late for the Monday morning post.
I have just been listening to Moore Marriott & Graham Moffat, in the bit from ‘Oh! Mr Porter!’ I expect you heard it too.
On Monday I went to the Music Society’s meeting as usual, & on Tuesday to a concert by the RAF orchestra. The orchestra played, amongst other items, part of the ‘Water Music’, some songs by a good soprano, and some very excellent piano playing by a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. As an encore he played the Dance of Fear [‘Dance of Terror’] from ‘Love the Magician’, much to my delight.
The weather has been still unpleasant, consisting mainly of wet snow, cold rain and cold winds. The snow has not laid properly, but it has made the roads nasty and sloshy to walk on. My cold is still with me and worse if anything, as I now have a sore throat too. I washed about a dozen handkerchiefs this evening, but have not yet succeeded in getting the blue out.
Nowadays we are back on the drill again. Not that there is any need for it, but I suppose that the idea is to keep us busy. Until then we were mainly on “route marches”, which generally consisted of about two thirds march & one third sitting in cafes.
Thursday: I am now at the billet after having been to see the doctor. He says I have tonsillitis and must stop in bed for two days. I have also to gargle, to inhale menthol & take some potassium chlorate tablets. I have not yet got to bed & don’t suppose I shall do so, because it is a lot warmer down here by the fire than upstairs, especially after the window has been open all morning. This morning was clear and very cold. About the coldest yet I should think. Don’t think that I am very ill though: as far as I am concerned I have just a bad cold and sore throat, but I think that if anything I am better than yesterday. I shan’t be able to go to the cinema tonight as planned though; I must try Saturday.
This morning’s post had only a letter from Auntie Frad for me, perhaps yours may arrive with the parcels at dinner time. I see from Auntie Frad’s letter that Peter arrived there on Monday, so I suppose that Jean has left you too. Her letter also included a 2/6 book of stamps, which is very useful, as I had run out & should have had to buy some to post this letter……….1.30pm: Nothing has yet arrived, so goodbye, Albert.
I had not heard of ‘Love the Magician’ until I read Albert’s letter. ‘El Amor Brujo’ was composed by Manuel de Falla between 1914 and 1915. I listened to an orchestral version of ‘Danza del Terror’ last night, closing my eyes to imagine my Uncle’s delight, to hear that familiar piece of music so far from home.
As I drove to the supermarket this morning, I realised that seeing people wearing facemasks feels just so normal now, and I guess in 1941 it felt just as commonplace to see people carrying around their gasmasks. Whilst I won’t compare the current pandemic in the UK to the upheaval of a world war, I see similarities in the hidden, unpredictable threat faced and how society shifts into new, previously unthinkable, patterns of protective behaviour.
As I was thinking about the parallels between war and pandemic, I looked up the number of British civilian casulaties – 43,000 people killed between 1940 and 1941. Currently the number of Covid 19 related deaths in the UK is 41,429 – not far off – in 8 months.
In 1941 due to censorship, people did not hear about how many of their fellow citizens had died as a direct result of war. Albert would have participated in gas mask drills (he could even have been a model for this sketch) but his letters omit such details. There must have been many, many things he did, which he could not share with his family. And I am sure also, there were feelings and concerns he would have wanted to share, about his life, his purpose and the unpredictable world he was living in. As such candour was impossible, Albert details the munitae of his December days, in the dull lull between Christmas and New Year.
Monday Dec 29. 1941
Dear All, I hoped to write a long letter about a walk which I intended to take yesterday, but by the time I awoke it was 10 o’clock and the ‘bus left at 10.20 – so it was not much use hurrying to catch it. The weather was cold and rather grey looking, though no doubt I should have enjoyed myself had I gone. I was going by ‘bus to Garstang, and then to walk up to the hills and moors, using my new book of maps. I must try that walk before I leave here, though I fancy there is a church parade next week.
In the afternoon I borrowed the “Monopoly” board which belongs to the people here, and had a game lasting for the afternoon and the earlier part of the evening, then I wrote some letters. I heard some “bits” of music during the day, including Everyman’s music in which they played the 1st part of The Water Music, much to my delight.
This morning your letters, posted on Boxing Day, arrived, and I was pleased to hear that you had a very good time at Xmas, with the usual Christmas fare and games, & quite a large party to join in with them.
I did not know that Jean had been to the clinic during her exam period, nor did I know that she did so well for Drawing, she is quite good.
As you seem to have such quantities, I am not sending any cigarettes this week. I had 40, but sold them to the man here, as he is not always able to get them; I can do with the money too, as I have not yet got over Xmas! (financially that is). I wonder how you got on travelling on Monday. Several of the girls who have gone on Xmas leave were due back to-day, but none of them has turned up. The fellows who had weekend leave say that the trains from Euston were packed, & very many of them could not get on the night train, and have had to travel later in the day.
It has turned much colder this week, and tonight it is slightly foggy, with a moon shining, and a sharp frost in the offing. The roofs were quite white this morning, which was also rather cold. This is the first really cold weather we have had; it probably is getting ready for next week when I am supposed to have some guards to do!
I am sending along “English Downland” which I am sure you will all like. I have put some remarks in the margin, so I won’t say anything much about it here. The part I like best of all is the description of the road over ‘Old Winchester Hill’, which he does very well, and in addition it is one of my favourite roads. If you have a spare Sunday in the Spring when the violets are out, you really must go along the road from West Meon station to the top of the Hill. I think it is best to go up the road, as then you have to walk and can see the full beauty of it. You could continue along Tegdown to Hyden Wood and thence either home or to Havant.
To-day it is still cold and foggy, I expect it is something like that at home, judging by the weather report from Dover. I hope you are all well: my love to you both & Peter and Jean – Albert.
P.S. I saw a car (Morris 10 or 12) with a ‘COW’ registration number. I took my shoes to be mended today so for the next week I shall clump round in boots for evenings. We should have church parade on Sunday.
And that is the last letter of 1941. What will 1942 bring Albert Mabey? I don’t know much more than you, for I have made a point of not reading ahead, prior to posting these letters. Soon I’ll pull the bundle of letters out from the box and we can discover the next chapter together.
Oh poor Albert! You know, in spite of his dramatic assertion above, I don’t feel too sorry for him, having read this letter through. There seems to have been quite alot going on for Albert in 1941 that was new and interesting, even though that necessitated some hard work on his part (for example getting his ‘words per minute’ up from 10 to 14 in Morse code). However I am sure it pulled on my Grandparents’ heartstrings to read those lines and also to learn that the prospect of Albert having Leave long enough to return home was some months away.
Albert pulls himself out of his petulance to detail his recent entertainments. Although Albert did not mention the concert of 23rd December, I have included the programme here because it was folded up with the letter. It’s lovely to read his annotations, which I imagine he made after the concert, as a means of sharing his experience with the family. I’ve added more photographs at the end of this post, so you can read them too.
Saturday, December 27 1941
I have received so many letters from you this week, that I had better write now, so as to catch up with you. I am writing this in the afternoon after having been out into the town, trying to buy a copy of “The Listener”, but there seem to be none left. It is crowded in the town, so crowded in fact that I did not bother to go into Boots’ and get the envelopes which I require. Since Christmas I have had quite a lot of letters – three I believe from you, one from Auntie Edie, one from Havant, one from Grandma, one from Maggie and from Hamble, so I have had plenty of mail to read lately; now I had better start answering it. It is a good job that I did not write a letter on Christmas evening, as I was then feeling very fed up. It did not seem like Christmas at all as I sat and looked at the fire, and it made it very definitely the worst Xmas I have ever known, and I do not wish to see another like it. It was worse because I had two pieces of bad news to think about, one which I am hoping maybe a mere rumour is that we have to pass out at 14wpm in Morse instead of the previous 10 which I have just passed. The other, which is definitely a fact, is that there are now no long weekends, so after the short weekend the next leave is the 7 days which is given on posting. One bright spot in the evening was a concert by the Scottish Orchestra, in which they played Mozart’s 39th Symphony (in E minor I believe) but even that was marred by poor reception, as it was on the Forces programme.
As for Christmas dinner, it was much the same as any other – quite alright but not Christmas. I ate the remaining apple after tea and very nice it was too – I was surprised that it had kept crisp so long – and we used up most of the nuts and Maltesers.In the afternoon I had a very pleasant walk in lovely weather; it was quite the best day we have had for weeks. I went along the Preston Road through Little Wharton, and then across country to The North towards the Weeton road. In the course of crossing field and I came across a drainage ditch (the country round here is rather flat and wet) and jumped across to the other side. Unfortunately the part that I thought was a nice firm one wasn’t and I landed up to the ankles (wearing shoes!) in soft black mud. However, I wiped it off as best I could and continued towards the Weeton Road at which I turned right and then left to Staining. From Staining, which is quite a nice little village, I went along a footpath to Stanley Park and thence home. The sun was shining, and, because I had not seen any for so long I suppose, the grass seemed exceptionally green and fresh looking.
“Boxing Day, we were of course working, which made it rather miserable, especially since the Airforce seemed to be the only people out of doors.“
In the evening three of us went to the pictures. It was not a film of much consequence (except for a Goofy silly symphony which I enjoyed immensely) and I can’t even remember what it was called, but it was better than stopping indoors and quite enjoyable really. Today as I say I am doing nothing much, though I had a bath just before tea (it is now nearly 7.0).
I have only a slight cough left from my cold and that does not trouble me much now. I have just washed another lot of handkerchiefs and socks – it looks as if some darning will have to be done soon.
I have spent some pleasant moments looking through Peter’s exam papers and doing such easy questions as I’m still able to do; I have got very rusty, especially on the physics co-ordinate geometry and trig. Looking at the maths question on roots of a quadratic equation, I see Peter gives the answer as x2 -27x + 26=0 and on working it out I get x2 -27x + 52, which I believe is the correct answer, so I am afraid Peter has slipped up there (have you?). The others I get the same, though it took me a long time to work through them! I have not yet done the numerical parts of the chemistry or physics (which is very difficult to read) papers. I was amused to see Peter’s memo to listen to the radio on the back of the “Pure Maths” paper. I was surprised that there was only one maths paper.
I am glad that you were able to see Auntie Edie after so long. I hope her journey was not too troublesome. I was interested to read that they had a new Valor at Branston – that was something not heard about, though I knew that the old one had gone wrong.
I was interested to see the facsimile of Phil’s airgraph, though I have seen one before. Did you know that I had sent him one? There does not seem much to answer in your last letters – I have not yet received one later than Dec. 23rd, though I have had an note from Havant saying that the cake “travelled beautifully” which rather relieves me. I hope you had a good Xmas at Havant, something more like the old times there.
Well goodbye now and love to you all, from Albert.
In this letter I found so many things that deserved further investigation, although delving into quadratic equations was not one of them! Perhaps Uncle Peter could comment on that? I was curious about the details of Albert’s walk, so I consulted Google Maps. I discovered that there is no such place as Little Wharton. Following his directions I think it was the delightfully named ‘Little Plumpton’ that Albert passed through. His walk , based on this assumption, was at least 15 miles long, and half of that completed with soggy socks and shoes! Albert’s lack of complaint about fatigue or discomfort serves to remind me that his generation were certainly more hardy than we.
“What happens after I have done the wireless and Morse I cannot say.”
My uncle was a modest man, I have learnt this much through reading his letters. His success at the Selection Board is not mentioned in this letter until almost the very end. Before he shares this news, Albert’s focus is on Christmas gifts gathered and the ‘absolutely wonderful’ concert he attended at The Tower. If Albert was accompanied by one of his female Civil Service friends we shall never know. Nor shall we ever know who the ‘Hamble friend’ was, or what became of him, for Albert never mentions him by name.
Time shows that Albert achieved the position of Observer, as we can see the brevet on his uniform in this photograph . I’ve not been able to find out much about the role, other than the Observer was considered second in command to the pilot and was most often the navigator and radio operator of the crew. It seems then, that my childhood description of the ‘big black compass’ may have been apt.
Saturday 7 pm December 12
Dear All, unlike last week I’m starting this letter early since I’m spending the evening indoors. We were inoculated for the second time today and my arm – the left one – is feeling rather stiff this time, you may recollect that it had practically no effect last time. Probably the fact that I have a cold has something to do with it, but you must not think that I am by any means ill (or I would not be writing this letter). I think I have been lucky to escape for so long without catching a cold.
Yesterday I said goodbye to my Hamble friend, who has finished his training here and is going for five days leave to Warsash. It will be a bit lonely now he has gone because it was very nice to be able to talk to him about our work and the people who are, and were, at Hamble. I hope to see him later on, when I get moved from here though. I received your parcel to-day, many thanks for it, though as yet I have not sampled the eatables or opened the Xmas gift, which I intend keeping until the day. I have spent the 3/- and a bit more besides. I think I have got nearly all the Xmas presents and cards settled, though I have not paid for Peter’s book yet as it has not arrived. I bought a small chocolate cake, which I hope to send to Havant if I can find a box for it; I hoped to use the one your stuff came in but it is not big enough. Someone here will have one no doubt. I have looked for some farm animals for Christine but they do not seem to be any, so I have bought a couple of exercise books since she seems to be short of paper and I shall send some sweets as well. On Wednesday I shall send you your tin box. By then I shall have enough cigarettes (wrapped separately!) and other things to fill it. I suppose I had better send your cards to Havant, though I don’t know how long you reckon to be there. That reminds me, I must buy a stock of 1d stamps for these cards. I suppose I should buy a card for Peter so as not to leave him out. If he is able to get his exam papers I should like to see them.
“We had a mince pie with our tea one day this week so the Castleton one was not the last of this year“
On Thursday I went to The Tower and saw ‘The Messiah’, it was marvellous, absolutely wonderful and I enjoyed it more than anything I have heard for a long time. There was a very good chorus of about 120 I should say, a good sized orchestra and an organ. The place was packed, far more people than were at the Halle concert and I had to pay two shillings to stand. I very nearly did not bother to go in, but having heard it I would willingly pay twice as much to hear it again.
Sunday Morning: I am feeling rather better now and sure I’ll be alright tomorrow. I am something like I was when I was inoculated last year. I had a letter from Grandma and Auntie Ursie during the week. Auntie Ursie says that their daffodils and snowdrops are beginning to show, I wonder if ours are coming out yet. She also drew my attention to the fact that they come from Poulton-le-Flyde, which of course I know, though I do not recollect Brown’s Nurseries.
On Thursday I went up to the Selection Board who took me without any difficulty as an Observer. It will make no difference to me for some while, as I have to go through the whole wireless course, though not the gunnery. What happens after I have done the wireless and Morse I cannot say. I am sorry to hear that Jean is not very happy in her billet, though she is a good girl not to complain. It seems to me that she got on best with the Hollybrook children. I hope she will have some nice companions when she is moved. I have not written to her lately but I don’t seem to have much time, or much news. I suppose that she will be spending some time at Havant after you have left, or will you be there the whole week? Well that seems to be about all I have to say, so goodbye and love from Albert.
P.S. I was interested to hear about Mrs Hart and the solitaire board, I remember that they used to play it at Landford. I could do with some stamps for the next lot of cigarettes.
In some other post I will tell you what I know about cousin Christine and her family. Her grandfather was the catalyst through which my Grandparents first met; when I discovered this I was glad to solve the mystery of how, in 1917, a man from the Island could have met a woman from Havant.
There must have been so much more to Albert’s new life that he did not share with his Mum and Dad – the chats with fellow lodgers, the training, the thoughts and longings he had. This letter jolted my own memories of writing home, when I was at university. It was a little unusual, in 1981, to write a weekly letter, for public phones were commonplace. I wrote letters because my Mother wrote to me, and she could not hear well on the phone. I kept all her letters, it seemed a wicked thing to contemplate destroying them. And my Mother, as we discovered after she died, kept all of mine. They lay with Albert’s, in the same big box. Maybe one day, when I am an old, old lady, I shall marry them up – I couldn’t bear to do that now. Maybe one day, much further on in time, a relative of mine shall read of the duet we danced to, and marvel at the lost world we inhabited.
With these words Albert sums up his RAF career to date; I sympathise with my uncle – days of pointless marching and chilly evenings in shared accommodation, far from the home and the countryside that he loved. He did not have to sign up, and I admire him all the more for that. My Mother told me, that as a chemist in the oil industry he was in a ‘reserved occupation’ and would have therefore avoided conscription. But willingly he volunteered, committed himself to war as so many young men, and women, did. Did Albert ever contemplate his own death? On the 19th November 1941, I think not. His concerns were for his mother’s well being, and for those others that he loved. Not that he loved everyone mentioned, Albert’s opinion of ‘Mrs Churchill’ is less than favourable and why he recommended that ‘Aunt’ be barred from Bullar Road remains a mystery!
Wednesday, November 19th Dear All, Yesterday I received the parcel, which you posted on Monday, which was quite quick. I do not know which letter you were expecting from me, but the last thing I posted to you last week was a parcel containing socks and vest which went about Thursday. Yesterday or was it Monday I sent a package to you and a parcel containing meat paste, chocolate and sweets to Jean. Thursday: incidentally I see that your letter was posted on November 17, one month after I joined the RAF and the longest month I have known, how much longer ago it seems that I was last home! I do not think that I have a great deal of news to tell. My most interesting days are spent in the weekends, though this weekend we have a Church Parade, so once more I shall not apply for a pass, though if it is fine I shall escape into the country for a few hours. Monday and yesterday I attended the usual music meetings on Monday Myers Fogging, who played at the Tuesday’s concert, gave us some piano music – all from memory and very good. There was also a soprano and a gramophone symphony, making a mixed and interesting programme. On Wednesday one of the corporals gave us a most interesting lecture, illustrated with records, of the history of music – very sketchily of course, but he gave us a jolly good talk and played some excellent records including some that I should like very much indeed. It is now evening and this letter will not be posted until Friday, so I hope you will get it on Saturday. Since I have nothing much to tell of my own doings I will answer your letter on the next page.
I was glad there is some news of Phil at long last, even if it was only a cable. Since I have been up here I have written him a letter and Airgraph and put a Xmas card in the letter, which I hope he has received. I am intending to write to Joyce somewhen and I will ask her what records she took away – just as a point of interest, I don’t mind of course. I can well imagine that you see plenty of Mrs Churchill too: I don’t suppose you have much time to think about your worries when she is in… I hope she will not be in too much when I come home, or else I shall be going back to Blackpool! However I expect she makes a good third for Kan-u-go, and company in the evenings. Do you see anything of Mr and Mrs Whatmore these days? You must keep “Aunt” out at all costs though, she is one of the visitors you must avoid. It gets very dark these evenings, in spite of the street lights, and I’m glad to have my torch with me. This evening I saw the new moon for the first time, so we shall have some moonlight next week. We are on a new timetable next week, I understand, I suppose that will mean more work and time spent in marching around Blackpool. However, I do not mind marching now that my feet are better, or almost so, but the drill is still the item I dislike most of all. I am sure that I shall be able to walk much further now, which will be a good thing as I have no bicycle. I have just been eating one of the apples and have two still remaining, so you see I did not really need any more. I also have some of the biscuits, which are very nice ones and a good shape as well, in fact I thought at first that they were shop ones before I undid the cellophane. As regards chocolates and sweets, I have not wanted to spend much money this week but I think I can get sweets at most times even if chocolates are rather scarce.
I do not hear the wireless much here and I have missed all the things you mentioned. I should especially like to hear the talks on Mozart G minor symphony. I heard the music hall on Sunday though and thought it quite good with Suzette Tarri and Murgatroyd and Winterbottom who I have not heard for years. The “wireless” here is strictly speaking not wireless, as it is one of those re-diffusion things which seem very popular here.
“Another thing we see a lot of the swing doors, due no doubt, to the cold winds. I have never before seen so many swing doors as along the Blackpool Front.”
Don’t expect me to get Christmas leave! I saw in the “Telegraph” the other day that there would be none, and of course that would be especially true for trainees. However I think that our long weekend should be within a fortnight of Christmas so you will be able to save up some of the festivities for me. Anyway, I think you will be safe to go to Havant and I think it would be a good idea to go there if you can. As regards photographs, I meant a small one (P.C.) f the cathedral . If you cannot find it you could send the other large one, the horizontal one, not showing the Bishop’s Palace. The one from the cliffs which I mean is the one on cream base grained paper – what I believe you call bromide paper, though in fact they are all on bromide paper, except the small contact prints. I do not know if that one has a train or not, but it does have a smudgy white seagull over the sea. I do not think the ones of Saints (Kings?), Fingal bridge or the stream are good enough to send, though you can send them if you care to. I am not sure which ones of Jean I have, but I think we should keep the better one, which is I fancy, on the cream grained paper. That is about all this week, not even enough to fill this page, so goodbye and love from Albert. (P.T.O.) P.S. We are just having some cocoa and a sort of fig cake for supper – we also have fig puddings for desert, and I don’t like it much – all pips and not a very nice flavour, but I don’t mind it much and everything else is very good.
Once again the feeling that Albert and I participate in a delicate dance, in which time is irrelevant; he mentions his wish for a photo of Jean and I found that photograph of my Mother to share in my last post. Foolish of me to think I found it for him? Perhaps. I’m sure though that he would have been glad (if not astonished) that I am able to share his work with you, wherever in the big, wide world you may be.
“Now I had better tell you some more about the billet and how good it is. We have plenty of everything.”
Albert started this letter on 9 November 1941. In spite of sore feet he appears in a positive frame of mind. His happiness was fuelled, I am sure, by the company of women (who obligingly make cocoa and iron hankies) and a plentiful supply of food. Other news relates to cinema trips, concerts, socks and day trips. Aside from his sore toe and the mention of pilot and observer exams, it would appear that the war is doing little to cloud his outlook.
As yet I have not received a message from you to this address but doubtless there will be something tomorrow, and if today I give an account of my doings, I shall be able to reply to you in a short time. It seems that the post is so slow that we cannot reply to letters twice a week I shall have to write my second one before I receive a reply to my first and so on, if you see what I mean I think it would be a good idea if I posted my letters Monday and Thursday so that you would receive them in the middle and at the end of the week. Then I think you could write on the same days, replying to my Monday letter in your Thursday one and to my Thurs. one in the weekend. I shall not now need to send home washing since we can send the stuff from this billet to a private laundry at about 1.6 a time which is no more than the post would cost. That reminds me, it goes on Sunday so I had better get it ready – oh it’s alright the landlady has collected it from my bedroom when she made the bed. I said I was going out today but that is not the case I failed to get a pass at my first attempt and since: (a) I have got a sore toe and could not walk far with comfort and (b) I have already spent most of this weeks money, I did not bother to try a second time. I have also discovered much to my dismay that the journey to Sheffield takes about five hours so it does not look as if I shall see much of that part of the world. Perhaps you could let me have the Bolton address if you think it would be alright to go. Or did you say that uncle Alan is at Manchester I could get there quite easily. On Tuesday I got my feet seen to and was excused drill and marches for three days -which I didn’t much mind! They put Acriflavine and plaster on since the little toe on my right foot has blistered. I have brought some Acriflavine cream and put it on, it should be alright by Monday. Now I had better tell you some more about the billet and how good it is. We have plenty of everything. Breakfast this morning was cornflakes, fried egg and bread and marmalade or jam. Yesterday dinner was chips, steak and beans and a custard trifle. For tea there is always something such as cold meat Friday there was fish and chips. At night the girls make us cocoa and there is something such as a pie or sandwiches to eat. It is really quite nice having the girls in as they are pleasant company and also do things for us such as washing up supper things and will iron handkerchiefs and ties for us. There is always a fire too, so that it is quite pleasant to stop indoors. Another good thing is that we help ourselves to sugar and milk (they they were in the teapot before) and have linen tablecloths instead of bits of American cloth, all of which make it more like home. There is warm or hot water in the morning too.It is really quite nice having the girls in as they are pleasant company and also do things for us
“It is really quite nice having the girls in as they are pleasant company and also do things for us..”
I have been eating, and enjoying, lots of things that I did not touch at home. Most breakfast times there is cornflakes or “shredded wheat” and I have had that with milk and sugar, and quite likely may have it in summer time when I come home! I also have custard with things and rice pudding, and I eat, though do not like so much, greens and other vegetables, though we have not had much in the way of parsnips, swedes and turnips. Today is grey and windy and I do not suppose I should go far this afternoon. As I said, I have not too much money. We were paid £1 on Saturday, to last us a fortnight and I have spent nearly 10/- of it on writing paper, acriflavine and a ticket for “Blossom Time”, going to the Halle Orchestra concert, and other odd things such as stamps and “The Listener”. This week I want to go to the cinema to see the Warner Brothers new film, perhaps I should go with Bob, my Hamble friend. The trouble is that it costs 2/- or 2/6 to get a reserved seat at the theatre, and I do not intend to go into the gallery though, at the Grand one can get a good seat for 2/- by waiting in a queue. However I shall manage on my RAF pay, even if I cannot save much of it. Which reminds me to ask how much of Jean’s money is left. I should think she has enough left for two or three weeks. How much is there in my box, and how are the savings certificates going, or probably SM&BP have not sent anything yet [Shell Mex & British Petroleum]. It is difficult for me to realise that I have been away only 3 weeks. Yesterday I collected a parcel which arrived at Hull Road. It contained a pair of socks from Branstone, and I am wearing them now. This afternoon I ought to wash them and a lot of hankies, as I have had a bit of a cold. There was also a letter from Ron, which I was pleased to see, I must reply next week. I must do something this week about being an observer. As a matter of fact, there are several who would like to be pilots ( the pilot’s course is initially the same as the observers) and as a matter of routine the whole squad is undergoing an educational test to see if any are fit to go in for the course. I saw a pilots revision course maths paper and did practically everything in my head so it all seems pretty simple. On Friday we had a Morse test which I failed, but since I did not know any before Monday that doesn’t worry me much. We have two more chances on successive Fridays; I expect I shall be alright by the next test. Monday 5pm. I have just come in and have been reading your letters; it is very nice to have such a lot to read, and to know all about what happens at home, especially all the little things, like Tibby catching a mouse, and how you have arranged the kitchen for cold weather. I expect we have had some frosts but there being no grass or greenstuff, one doesn’t notice it so much. To-day it is wet and rather miserable and I am glad to sit by the fire. I must get this done in time for the post though and get that extra vest in. Auntie Daisy has some more socks underway I believe, so I shall soon be very well off. When I have got these dried I shall send a pair and save myself some mending! Thank you for the cheese and apples too. If I ever get a day out I can take the cheese with some bread thank you also for the information about Christmas presents, but you have missed out 2 very important ones. I should like to share in your cheese savoury for dinner, that is something I should not get in any billet. Of course we have plenty of meat allowed us and most people would prefer meat to a “fussy” and dish like macaroni cheese (I wouldn’t of course). By the way we are allowed to wear shoes and so I have no worries on that score, and in lieu of slippers we use our gym shoes (plimsolls) which do just as well and don’t come off. I should not bother to send the “M.M.”, I have plenty to read and it would only get bent and battered. Perhaps you could send to uncle Jim a PC size photo of Exeter Cathedral, and there is one of the railway and cliffs done on cream grained paper that he could have. There are some of the guides to but they are not sufficiently in focus to be of much use, still send them along to him. I also meant to send Peter Wadham a 2 inch screwed rod and 2 doz. nuts & bolts for his Meccano, but that had better wait until Peter is home again. By the way 39 D. Road is opposite a little alley way and south of Banks street. Our “drill ground” is the top (blind end) of Cocker Street, not far away. The envelope I meant was a blank stamped one which you sent. It got rather bent and slightly split in the journey. Don’t let the gramophone run down after use, though of course it is inadvisable to leave it fully wound. If you have not yet done so the needle had better be changed, use one of the “Chromium” ones (silver case) they are easier to put in. It is now nearly 6.30 & there is no time to make up the parcel. I will send it next time I write (Weds). So goodbye now and love to all, from Albert.
It is a strange, but not unpleasant sensation, to feel glad that Albert is enjoying himself. The heart tunes into the truth that lingers; he may be long gone but his words reconnect me with the time when he was young, hopeful, and delighting in Northern adventures. I have never visited Blackpool (shall I ever?) but I’ve found a good guide, albeit for the town as it was nearly 80 years ago! Well Albert, I look forward to your next letter.
“Our beds are made, we have cocoa & a sandwich for a supper & there is hot water all times.”
Two days later, on 4th November 1941, Albert writes another letter home from his new billet. He is sounding really rather chipper, his excitement about his new lodgings leaps off the page. He finds himself in a hotel where there are more ‘girls’ than airmen, a dream come true for a 20 year old man far from home, I am sure.
He has a sense of purpose too, for his specific training has commenced and he is learning Morse code. He writes that his efforts can be seen on the paper. I searched and searched and saw no dashes and dots, until I tilted the first page and saw the impressions of code besides the address. I cannot reproduce it here and if there is a secret message contained therein, well I’m afraid I shall not be investing in fingerprint dust to decipher it!
Later in the letter he relates his visit to Stanley park where he saw ‘Real live birds!’ and enjoys the softness of the grass beneath his feet. He wishes he had walked from Whiteley Bank back to Branstone with his family, back to Headley House where there have been worries about money. How dear he was, to offer a contribution from his wages to help his Grandparents and the Maiden Aunts.
I very much enjoyed this letter, Albert came alive as I read his news. I hope you enjoy it too.
Dear All, you will note the change of address! Apparently our old billet was too far from the parade ground (about 12 mins), so we have been moved here, which is about 10 minutes nearer. We got back to billets at about 6p.m. and were informed that we should move after tea! It is now nine o’clock!
Fortunately this billet is, I believe, even better than the last. For example, our beds are made, we have cocoa & a sandwich for a supper & there is hot water all times, none of which we had at Hull road. Two of use from Hull road came here, and joined five other airmen who have been in Blackpool about 8 weeks I understand. There are also 10 girl Civil Servants, who are working at the Ministry of Works and Buildings, which has moved up to the Hotel Metropole here. There are other Ministries here, including Pensions and Health. They have naturally got the biggest & best hotels in the place.
We have begun to work in earnest this week. We work from 8 or earlier, to 6 with about an hour for dinner. There is the usual drill, and now we do Morse. Yesterday I had my first acquaintance with the Morse code and instead of going to the Music Club I learnt, or partly learnt the code – you will see that on the top of the page over. This evening I missed Handel’s Oratorio Judas Maccabeus by moving here. To-morrow I mean to make the greatest efforts to get to the music meeting. And on Thursday I must see my Hamble pal again – he was out when I called last week.
I received your letters this afternoon. I was sorry to hear that you had so tiresome a journey, though I would be pleased to walk from Whiteley Bank with you! I am very pleased to hear that the bother over the money has been settled, but perhaps you would like to take say 5/- per week out of my S.M. & B.P [Shell Mex and British Petroleum, Albert’s employer]. Or I could make an allotment of 7/- a week to you or them, and you could have as much as you require. Don’t be afraid to take the money if you want it. I am glad that their wireless is alright, and that Peter is better now. I suppose Jean is still in the same billet; I shall try to send her some chocolate or sweets and perhaps some meat paste.I believe there is a laundry service that we can avail ourselves of.
On Sunday I went to Stanley Park which you will find on the map with a pond in the east part of it. I believe it is the only park in Blackpool, but it is quite a nice place and I was joyful to have some grass under my feet, & trees on either side, and even some birds – real live birds! I walked to the eastern gates and out to a field nearby, where I actually saw some cows.
If I can manage a day pass to get outside the 5 mile limit, I should like to go to Garston on Sunday. Garston (I hope that is the name) [No Albert, you meant Garstang] is a village under the Pennines and I can do a little walk from there.
The fellows here say that it is not always the case that leave passes come when they should so whilst we can live in hopes, it is not advisable to hope too much! I have tried some shops for 1/4″ map of the district. There was a 1/2″ available but it did not show Castleton or the Lake District. I shall keep trying though. Boots have a very good shop and quite a nice selection of books. The apples have all gone – I was wrong when I said they were not so good – I had only had two of the little ones when I wrote – the large ones were much better & I shall always be pleased to see some more. That had better be all so goodnight & love from Albert.
P.S. I should not send any more envelopes you can see what happens to them!
What did happen to the envelopes I wonder? This letter, like many others, did not have an envelope. Albert’s letters were most likely censored. I know for a fact that some later ones were, as I’ve found little windows on pages, signifying the removal of a potentially treacherous word or two. Goodnight Albert, enjoy your cocoa and the sound of the “girls'” laughter.
Dear reader, forgive me for not writing for so long. Albert’s letter has been lying around my house (on the bedside table, by the computer, on the sofa) for too many weeks. Perhaps the letter has enjoyed its travels around my house, reminiscent of the times it spent on the dining room table at Bullar Road. Perhaps Grandmother or Grandfather kept the letter in a pocket for a while, in order to read it again, refolding the five pages carefully along the creases that remain in place today.
Albert’s opinion of Blackpool has changed somewhat, due to the variety of evening entertainment on offer. Although he struggles to find a quiet place to read (I love his observation “of course the churches are no use at night”), he has thrown himself into his new life with gusto. One would hardly think there was a war on!
A melancholy tone pervades at times, such as when he writes “it is not very happy stopping indoors in a home that is not mine.” Did my Grandmother worry about her sensitive son, lover of classical music and English Downland? If he were mine, I am sure that I would have.
Dear All, On Friday I received your letters and rag, written Sat. night and yesterday afternoon, your parcel arrived. I see that those letters were written on Tuesday night, so it seems that the letters take longer in this direction. I was very pleased to receive the parcel; I think the pleasantest part was the pair of shoes. Having to wear boots has made my feet quite sore and although those shoes are heavy one I felt as if I was treading on air. You have probably received my parcel of cigs by now. I shall certainly send more later, also chocolate but the latter is not now so easy to obtain. We do not use the token or coupon system at the NAAFI which now serves us, we have to queue up & then we only get 20 cigs. and a 2d bar of chocolate. I can get the cigs. at other places quite easily, but not so the chocolate. Incidentally, I bought 2 x 20 cigs and a 10 at the first 3 shops I tried – all Player’s and I didn’t draw a single blank! By the way when you say “Player’s or better”, what are the better?
I shall send back a vest and a pair of pants (and pyjamas) with this letter. there is a laundry service to which I am sending my Air Force stuff – towel, shirt, and collars. It is a free laundry & until something goes wrong I shall use it. I have washed socks and handkerchiefs but perhaps you could send some more socks, as I have only two pairs – one I am wearing, the other pair is drying. I was also pleased to receive the apples though I do not think they will keep long, the small ones which I have tried lacked that crispness which they usually have. When you send again you might put in some darning wool for my socks – just in case! The money for my parcels and torch you really should take out of my pay – I expect it is none too easy to make ends meet and at the rate of several parcels a month it will not take long to pay back the cost of Jean’s bicycle – so you would not be any better off! As regards money, I find Blackpool a real city of temptation. It is so much easier to buy a reserved seat at 2/6 or 3/- than to queue up for 1/6d or 2/- seat, and after the show I don’t need much persuading to go and have supper, and of course there are always coffee, ices and lemonade brought round in the interval. I met quite a nice fellow at Friday’s WEA class and we had supper together. I had not seen any cheese since Padgate, so I had and enjoyed Welsh rabbit [rarebit]. If I spend only 7/6d this week I shall have £1 left, which I shall try to save. I shall also try to save 5/- a week by managing on 10/1 per week and thereby save something for Christmas presents and leave. In 4 weeks from now we get (if lucky) a short weekend pass, Saturday dinner time to Sunday night, and in 8 weeks time a long weekend from Friday night to Sunday night, or Monday morning (7am). So on the long weekend I might get home, and on the short weekend, I can go to Castelton or Wentworth. After a while I may be able to get a day pass out of our 5 mile “bounds” (the bounds exempt Fleetwood and Lytham on the coast) and possibly go to Coniston on that, or else Bolton, if the coach tours no longer run.
Yesterday I saw the opera of which I am sending the programme. Being Russian it was not so easy to understand, but I enjoyed it very well. The Opera house is much bigger (about the size of the “Forum”) than the “Grand” where the other operas were, and it is quite modern. The Winter Gardens, the Tower and the Palace are the 3 main places of entertainment. Each contains a cinema, a variety (Palace), stage show (Winter Gardens -Opera House) or something similar and a ballroom. The Winter Gardens have about 3 restaurants and 4 bars, as well as milk and coffee bars, lounges, and amusement halls of automatic machines. The Tower has restaurant, bar, and a menagerie and aquarium. By paying for the cinema or stage show one can see the rest of the building, and after last night’s opera I wandered round & looked at the amusement arcades and the dancing in the Winter Gardens. even if it does not appeal to me much, it is a truly remarkable place.You are quite right about the fellows here; they are not of the “rough & tough” type, and don’t bother me, but there is usually plenty of noise going on, so I find it difficult to concentrate on writing & reading. this morning things are quite quiet, but if you find a lot of mistakes in my letters you will know the reason why. That is why I do not stop in very much, also, it is not very happy stopping indoors in a home that is not mine, one tends to forget being away by going out. So on Mondays & Wednesdays I go to the RAF musical meetings, on Friday to the WEA class, on Thurs. or Tuesday to see my Hamble friend, & on Saturday to the Theatre. That does not leave me much time to be lonely. It does not leave me much time for reading either and I have only reached page 39 in my “English Downland” book. I hope to find a quiet place where I can read in silence. I must make a tour of the many clubs and canteens & see if I can find somewhere. The reading room of the library is unfortunately closed at 7p.m., and of course the churches are no use at night.
Could you let me know which books Peter took? Or perhaps I shall write to him and ask. Somewhen you could possibly make a list of Christmas presents for our family, Ron, Havant & Branstone. Our course at Blackpool is 10 weeks to-morrow, so it looks as if I shall be here for Christmas and I might as well buy presents about a month before the time so as to have a good selection to choose from. I might get Peter another chemistry book. Thanks very much for the torch, but I used it to go downstairs & when I tried it again it would not work! so I suppose the bulb has gone: the journey up must have done for it. Most of the people have had their photographs done by now but you will not see any from me in a hurry! Some of them are very poor & I have seen none of real excellence. I have not as yet made any real friends but I do not mind that. I go out on my own and often meet pleasant people when I am out. I do not doubt that the others in the billet wonder what I do with myself. I do not tell them much because I should not think they would approve of my music meetings. Next Monday there are some professionals appearing to play a Beethoven Sonata and a Brahms trio, usually the music is provided by a radiogram. On Wednesday we tried to hear a broadcast concert but the reception was too poor to continue listening. In spite of it being a very good set, there was a lot more fading than we experience, so to fill the time, the one who organises the meetings played us some piano music: he had no music & is a very good player.
Well I think that is about all so goodbye and love from Albert.
P.S. I hope you have some nice rides – tell me about them, I should like to know. What does ‘ad vincula’ mean?
I was glad to hear that the Ceratostigma was out, does it look as if it will be a nice shrub? I have destroyed a good many of the letters you sent. I hope you wanted none of them. I am keeping Jean’s though because it gave me a good laugh to read it, Bravo Jean!
“Welsh Rabbit”, ah that made me smile, it reminded me of a staple of our Sunday afternoon teas; Welsh Rabbit with Worcester Sauce. As a child I thought it was a silly name my Dad made up, never having heard of a ‘Welsh Rarebit’. Does anyone else remember that? A silly, and frankly (for a small child) confusing and rather disturbing name. It tastes nothing like a rabbit.
Albert starts his letter on 26th October, two days after his previous letter home. I can’t help but think that Albert was a little lonely, occupying his free time in letter writing and solitary trips to cinema and theatre. He sends my Grandfather cigarettes for his birthday, which seems a rather shocking sort of present now, but normal for the times; everyone who has ever watched a film set during World War Two will know how scarce and sought after ‘smokes’ were. A weekly ration of 60 cigarettes was a privilege reserved for those who served. Albert is making do and making the best of it; washing his own socks, sharing a room with two strangers and bearing the cold weather of the North-West Coast. In my opinion he rather skimps on the number of pants he deems necessary, but these were different times!
Dear Everybody, I shall start this letter today and post it to-morrow after we move to our new billet. First, I will say that I got your first letter on Friday, and the parcel with the socks on Saturday. I hope that by now you will have got my parcel. As regards clean things, I shall try to wash my own collars, socks and handkerchiefs, if I am at all able to, but I think that it will be best to send home shirts pyjamas vests and pants. I think you could perhaps send to my new address a parcel consisting of : 2 vests, 2 pairs pants, I pyjamas & coat, my bicycle torch, my black shoes I wore to Padgate, some soft rag for brass cleaning. You can take the money out of my pay (when it comes).
Next Friday, we receive the magnificent sum of 10/- [10 shillings], and that has to last us for a fortnight, so I cannot see my £2 which I have left last me for long. I am sending a few cigarettes as a birthday present, and when we get paid I shall send some more. I have also got some chocolate for Auntie Lizzie’s birthday, but cannot send it until I have a box to pack it in, or at least some cardboard. We are allocated 60 cigarettes & 4 bars of chocolate per week, for which we have a token. So if you want anything like that, I can get it. There is not such a shortage of other goods either, I see tins of beans, fish & meat roll, paste and other things in the shops, so I can try for them if you want. I am having 2/- per week taken out of my pay and put into P.O. savings. I expect to be able to manage on 15/- per week after the next fortnight. By booking early for the theatres I should get a good seat for 2/6d. I got in easily on Friday by arriving at 6.20 (the show began at 7.30) and had a good seat at half a crown. I could probably have done the same last night. I enjoyed both operas very much indeed, and really cannot decide which one I enjoyed more.
I also enquired yesterday about W.E.A. classes which are held near here. There is one every Friday on “Appreciation of Music” which I shall probably attend. On Mondays there is the R.A.F musical society, meetings with gramophone records, and I shall probably look in there next week.
This afternoon, as I believe I have said, I hope to go to Cleveleys, I can tell more of that on Monday. Looking around Blackpool I have succeeded in finding some fairly good shops, and have also unearthed the local library and art gallery. By means of diligent searching I hope to find some parks one day, as I am told that there are some concealed in the less frequented parts of the town. I have written to work when I sent back a form for the making up of pay, and to Havant and to Jean (at Branstone). Later I must send to the Harts, to Phil & to Raymond. I don’t like any of the picture postcards here so I have not wasted my money on them. Have you seen Pat lately? Is he still at the docks or is he now elsewhere?
Monday. We are now at our new billet, 21 of us altogether, and 3 in our particular bedroom, which is on the 2nd floor. The 2 I am with were not in my previous billet and seem quite nice chaps. This billet is, I think, better than the other, though I have only been here for dinner. However there was more to eat, and a radio on, which, though Forces of course, enabled me to hear the news. I now learn there is no pay until Friday Week. However, I think I shall manage on it.
“By means of diligent searching I hope to find some parks one day”
We went to Fleetwood yesterday on the tram. The trams are half price for Forces, and to Fleetwood the distance of about 6 miles I should say, the fare was only 4d. From the shore there, we could see the hills of Cumberland in the misty distance, and they looked very fine in the hazy yellow light. To the east were the Pennines, though I do not know what part – considerably north of the Peak though. Perhaps one time, if I can afford it, Auntie Edie could get me accommodation for a 48hrs leave there. I see coaches run every Sunday to Keswick & suchlike at about 10/- but by the time I can go, they will probably have stopped. In winter the snow is no doubt quite deep here. It is cold enough already as the wind blows off the Irish Sea, as that was especially noticeable at our last billet, where there was no fire. At Fleetwood I saw many trawlers & and Isle of Man steamer. There are also very many trawlers, though most of them seemed to be in the dock. We could see the balloon barrage at Barrow too.
This morning, before leaving Church Street, a pair of socks arrived from Auntie Daisy, but as yet I have had no time to try them on. I shall go back there tonight and collect my books, writing pad & other articles which I left behind. I shall write to Branstone soon: I have already sent one there for Jean. I must also write to those others, so may not write to you again until I receive that parcel. Had better finish now so goodbye & lots of love from Albert.
And once again, through no design of my own, I publish a letter at almost the same time of year that it was written. Here my uncle writes of migrating birds and robins singing again. I pause from my typing to listen to my own little robin warbling on the garden fence. I see the geese pass overhead. Albert is tapping lightly on my shoulder, asking me to look beyond and see the gossamer thread of connection that we share on this late October day. So we start to know each other.
I have got left £2.15s to last me until next pay day on next Friday. Also I have the best part of a 5/- [5 shillings] book of stamps. I am glad to hear that Jean has at last got a bicycle: she says that you took the money from my box, so don’t bother to repay it, she can count it as a birthday (or Christmas) present from me. We got 10/- at Padgate, and since then have had no money. Glad I brought some!
I was interested to hear how you are getting on, though it made me a bit homesick to think of all the places you went to on your ride. I am glad to see that you use the gramophone: you must let Joyce hear it when they come round, she would especially like to hear the “Emperor Concerto” right through (H.M.V. plum label) and the Bach Piano Concerto in A minor (H.M.V. red label). The second she has not heard at all, if I write to them I shall mention it. That “Hymn Tune” is I think “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach, played by Myra Hess (H.M.V. plum label 10″ in right hand compartment). Others which you might enjoy are:
Those marked (J) are Joyce’s and in the left hand compartment. There are also all our old ones knocking around somewhere in the box. By the way my balance is not a “Spring Balance“! Take a look at it one day and see if you can find the spring or the springs. When you went out you probably noticed, as I did before I left, how the birds are beginning to sing again, especially the robins and wrens. I expect the skylarks will be beginning again soon. I have heard none up here, but have seen several flocks of birds flying out to the sea S.S.W. Migrating I suppose, quite possibly martins, swallows or swifts. I have never seen migrating birds before. I have just read the letters from Havant and Branstone: it is very nice to see how they are getting on. It reminds me to see about something for Auntie Lizzie’s birthday too. I had forgotten about it. I think I can get some chocolate at the canteen & send some along to her.
I am glad you are still getting the “Radio Times” (show Joyce) for tonight I see something labelled in the paper “Mozart”, it should be good. I have got the “News Chronicle” to-day, the “Telegraph” is nearly unprocurable here. I was interested about the rear lamp, a pity we did not think of it before, because that should solve all earthing problems. You were quite right about the taxi. I lingered at Stewarts until nearly 10 to 1 and by the time I got to Euston, it was 1.4 (train at 1.5). I was fortunate in obtaining a taxi just outside the door in Regents Street. But still, it cost me only 2/6 with the tip. As for the book of stamps, I had no time at all after lunch. That had better be all so goodbye now and love to all, from Albert.
P.S. You will show this letter to anyone else who would be interested of course. The food in this billet is quite good but not very plentiful. We should get moved on Monday to more permanent billet. I shall want you to send up my bicycle padlock & chain to lock my kitbag a little later – a lock here costs from 2s6d. Also some bits of rag for cleaning. I shall need a torch too.
This letter is recognisably from a different era; gramophone records, shillings and pence (d) and a curious way of writing the time – I assume 1.4 and 1.5 are 1.40 and 1.50 respectively. I also took note of the hyphenated spellings ‘to-day, to-morrow’ etc. I’m guessing these were not Mabey idiosyncrasies, although the family has some rather poor spellers! I was also surprised by the date format that Albert used, thinking this an Americanism, as we favour (and being English regard it as superior) the ‘day, month, year’ form. Was Albert’s date a ‘modern’ form that later fell out of favour or the traditional format that the UK later abandoned? I delight in these details, pedant that I am.